It’s a short list of skills that separate great performers from average performers. Confidence, also called presence, is one of those critical skills. Those who have it (or fake it well) usually succeed. Clients expect you to have it. After all, they hired you, the expert, to guide them through their toughest challenges. Judges won’t listen to you without it. Justice Scalia’s recent public razing of a lawyer who read his notes during oral arguments is a perfect example.
Presence, as it’s called in social science, is not about being aggressive, opinionated or extraverted. Even introverts — which most lawyers are — can exude confidence. And, quite frankly, they have to do so to survive in a world of energetic extroverts. For many years, I worked with a brilliant BigLaw managing partner who often spoke less than everyone else in the room. But when he spoke, everyone listened. Why? He had presence. Confidence. He was an invisible giant.
Try These Presence-Building Tactics
No matter your personality type, you can use these five helpful tactics to build your confidence and presence.
1. Pose powerfully. Amy Cuddy, a researcher and professor at Harvard Business School, has spent decades understanding body language with an emphasis on what makes someone more or less powerful or influential. Check out her TED talk on power posing. Your body positioning shapes how others see you, but it can also change how you view yourself.
2. Speak well as you think on your feet. Stealing a line from a couple of the best oral advocacy experts in our field, Brian Johnson and Marsha Hunter, the ability to speak well as you think on your feet is a key attribute of someone with confidence. A quivering voice, filler words, an emphasis on the last word of every sentence — all can have a negative effect on others’ perception of you. Your intellectual horsepower means very little if you can’t get the words out in an influential and confident manner. Read their book, The Articulate Attorney, or view the helpful teaching videos on their website.
3. And your final decision is? Clients have told me for years that their go-to lawyers are not only technically competent, but also distinctly confident. Not rocket science. In defining confidence, they always point to one thing — decisiveness. From the perspective of many clients, a confident lawyer is one who knows the business, knows the law and, balancing the two, suggests a specific course of action. No straddling the fence. The clients, of course, can take it or leave it, but they have the benefit of their lawyer’s clear and explicit business (not just legal) advice. Take a look at the ACC Value Challenge’s “51 Practical Ways for Law Firms to Add Value,” specifically number 26.
4. Stop talking. My mom used to say, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason — you should listen twice as much as you talk.” Turns out, science says she was right. (Again.) Research has shown that listeners are seen as more trustworthy and confident than talkers. Check out the research in Scientific American to learn more.
5. Boost your online aura. Nowadays your “presence” isn’t just about what you do, say or don’t say when you are in a room filled with people. It’s also about your online presence. So that gray, faceless shadow figure that is showing up on your LinkedIn profile instead of a professional photo certainly doesn’t radiate presence. For helpful LinkedIn tips, go to Lawyerist’s “LinkedIn Tools for Lawyers” and Attorney At Work’s nifty “LinkedIn for Lawyers Collection.”
Caren Ulrich Stacy is founder of the OnRamp Fellowship for women lawyers re-entering the profession, and Principal of Lawyer Development Strategies LLC. She has over 20 years of experience in lawyer recruitment, development and diversity. Caren was awarded the NALP Mark of Distinction in 2009, elected as a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management in 2010, and was recently appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice’s Commission on the Legal Profession.
More About the OnRamp Fellowship
Are you a woman lawyer getting ready to return after taking a break from the practice of law? You may qualify for the OnRamp Fellowship and placement in a BigLaw firm for 12 months. Click here to contact OnRamp Fellowship for more information.